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Archive for the ‘Audit Reports’ Category

Anyone remember Allyson Campbell?

If not, that’s understandable. After all, it’s been a couple of years since we had a STORY about her exploits in the 4th Judicial Court in Monroe. She’s the Monroe News-Star society columnist who showed up occasionally at her supposed full-time job as law clerk for 4th JDC Judge Wilson Rambo (gotta love that name; wonder if they have a judge named Rocky?).

On Wednesday, 12 of the 13 judges of the First Circuit Court of Appeal (only Judge Curtis Calloway did not hear arguments) dealt the self-promoting columnist/clerk a major setback when it ruled in an en banc (full court) decision that she does not enjoy “absolute immunity” from her actions in destroying court files and that a lawsuit against her may go forward.

But it was the dissenting opinion of one of the three judges who gave written opinions that makes for the best reading.

The ruling comes nearly two years after Louisiana Inspector General STEPHEN STREET found there was no “sufficient cause” to bring charges against Campbell for what witnesses said were repeated instances of her destroying or concealing trial briefs. For that matter, Louisiana State Police and the Louisiana Attorney General’s office also declined to pursue the matter, leaving only one state official, Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera, with the integrity and courage to call Campbell out for her actions.

She was also the central figure in:

  • The controversy that erupted when the Ouachita Citizen made a legal request for public records from the court—and was promptly sued by the judges for seeking those same public records.
  • The filing of a lawsuit by Judge Sharon Marchman against four fellow judges and Campbell over Campbell’s claiming time worked when she was actually absent—including time when she was in restaurants and/or bars for which she claimed time—and the four judges who Judge Marchman said were complicit in covering for her.
  • A complaint by Monroe attorney Cody Rials that Campbell had boasted in a local bar that she had destroyed Rials’ court document in a case he had pending before Judge Carl Sharp so that Sharp could not review it. One witness interviewed by Judges Sharp and Ben Jones quoted Campbell as saying that she had “taken great pleasure I shredding Rials’ judgment” and that she had given Rials a “legal f—ing.”

Now a DECISION by the First Circuit Court of Appeal, in overturning a lower court’s 2015 decision, has held that a lawsuit by Stanley Palowsky, III, against Campbell for damages incurred when she “spoliated, concealed, removed, destroyed, shredded, withheld, and/or improperly handled” his petition for damages against former business partner Brandon Cork may proceed.

At the same time, the First Circuit ruled that the five judges he added as defendants—Stephens Winters, Sharp, Rambo, Frederic Amman and Jones—for allowing Campbell “free rein to do as she pleased and then conspiring to conceal (her) acts” enjoyed “absolute immunity” from being sued and were dismissed as defendants despite their repeated denials that any documents were missing from the Palowsky file.

Palowsky argued that Campbell undertook her acts with malice and to obtain advantages for his opponents in the lawsuit. Moreover, he argued that Campbell’s supervising judges, Amman and Rambo, “did not just sit back quietly and let Campbell commit such acts, they actively worked and schemed to cover up her actions.”

Palowsky also said that Campbell’s wrongdoings “have been reported time and again by different attorneys in different cases and investigated time and again by defendant judges but have nevertheless been allowed to continue. It is now painfully apparent that not only has Campbell been unsupervised and uncontrollable for years, but defendant judges have actively schemed to allow her conduct to continue unabatedly (sic).”

Campbell, who doubles as a society columnist of sorts (if one really stretches the definition of the term) for the News-Star, is obviously her own biggest fan—unless you count her stated infatuation for Cork’s attorney Thomas Haynes, III, about whom she wrote in one of her columns that he…had the “IT” factor, “a somewhat undefinable quality that makes you and everyone else around stand taller when they enter the room, listen a little more closely, encourage you to take fashion or life risks, make each occasion a little more fun and generally inspire you to aim to achieve that ‘IT’ factor for yourself.”

If they taught that method of courtroom coverage in my Louisiana Tech journalism classes, I must have been absent that day.

Needless to say, the First Circuit upheld the lower court in expunging that paragraph from Palowsky’s petition.

In fact, the lower court struck 46 paragraphs from his lawsuit against Campbell and the five judges, but the First Circuit restored 21 paragraphs to the petition. The 25 it allowed to remain removed involved matters not directly related to Campbell’s alleged destruction of files, the judges said.

In 2014, Campbell published a column entitled, “A Modern Guide to Handle Your Scandal,” in which she wrote, “Half the fun is getting there, and the other half is in the fix.” She then went on to advise her readers to “keep the crowd guessing. Send it out—lies, half-truths, gorilla dust, whatever you’ve got.” She told readers, “You’re no one until someone is out to get you.”

(There’s a line in there somewhere about Trump, but it’s just too easy.)

In July 2015, she wrote in her column, “It’s not cheating if it’s in our favor.”

That paragraph was removed from Palowsky’s petition as was one that noted that on one occasion, 52 writ applications went missing for more than a year before it was discovered that Campbell had used the applications as an end table in her office.

Say what?!!?

One paragraph left in the petition was one in which Palowsky pointed out that the five judges might not be out of the woods yet, if the Louisiana Judiciary Commission does its job. The Louisiana State Constitution provides as follows: “On recommendation of the judiciary commission, the (Louisiana) Supreme Court may censure, suspend with or without salary, remove from office, or retire involuntarily a judge for willful misconduct relating to his official duty, willful and persistent failure to perform his duty, persistent and public conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute, conduct while in office which could constitute a felony, or conviction of a felony.”

It would appear in consideration of the judicial protection of Campbell, a case could be made that the judges are guilty at least of slipshod management at best and criminal malfeasance at worst.

All the judges in the 4th JDC recused themselves when Palowsky sued and his case was heard by Ad Hoc Judge Jerome Barbera, III, who cited in his Dec. 11, 2015, ruling dismissing the five judges as defendants an 1871 ruling that said, “It is a general principle of the highest importance to the proper administration of justice that a judicial officer, in exercising the authority vested in him, shall be free to act upon his own convictions, without apprehension of personal consequences to himself.”

Even though Palowsky was claiming that the judges protected Campbell despite their full knowledge of what she had done, Barbera said, “Allegations of bad faith or malice are not sufficient to overcome judicial immunity.”

Another way of putting it is that the judges are untouchable and that their edicts, like those of the Pope, are infallible, divinely inspired.

Barbera extended the immunity to Campbell but the First Circuit opinion, written by  Judge Page McClendon, overturned Barbera on that point. While two of the Appeal Court judges, Vanessa Whipple and Guy Holdridge upheld immunity for the five district court judges in their written opinions, all three rejected the idea of immunity for Campbell and all three voted to reinstate 21 of the paragraphs in Palowsky’s petition.

But it was that third judge, William Crain, who wrote that none of the defendants deserved immunity from events in the 4th JDC.

“Judicial immunity is of the highest order of importance in maintaining an independent judiciary, free of threats or intimidation. But it is a judge-created doctrine policed by judges.” (emphasis mine)

He also said that when judicial actors “perform non-judicial acts, they are not protected by this otherwise sweeping immunity doctrine.

“The duty to maintain records in cases involves many non-judicial actors and can only be considered a ministerial, not judicial act,” he wrote.

“For the same reasons (that) the law clerk is not immunized for her non-judicial acts related to maintaining court records, the judges are not immunized for allegedly aiding, abetting, then concealing those acts. Failing to supervise a law clerk relative to a non-judicial act is not a judicial act for purposes of immunity.

“The doctrine of judicial immunity does not shield judicial actors from civil liability for criminal acts (and) while later cases suggest judicial immunity extends even to judicial acts performed with malice, those cases do not immunize judicial actors from criminal conduct grounded in malice or corruption.

“Extending the doctrine of judicial immunity to include civil liability for alleged criminal conduct, as in this case, risks undermining the public’s trust in the judiciary, which I cannot countenance.”

So, how, you might ask, has Campbell managed to withstand the barrage of charges of payroll fraud, absenteeism, records destruction, and critical audit reports and still keep her job?

And continue to flaunt her actions in a newspaper column?

That can be explained in one word: Connections.

Campbell’s father is George Campbell, an executive with Regions Bank. George Campbell is married to the daughter of influential attorney Billy Boles who was instrumental in the growth of Century Telephone and who is a major contributor to various political campaigns.

Allyson Campbell is also the sister of Catherine Creed of the Monroe personal injury law firm of Creed and Creed. Christian Creed, Campbell’s brother-in-law, contributed $5,000 to Attorney General Jeff Landry’s 2015 campaign, which could explain, in part, why the AG backed off its investigation of Campbell the following year.

In a town the size of Monroe, those connections are sufficient, apparently.

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Why would DeSoto Parish Sheriff Rodney Arbuckle abruptly resign less than midway through his fifth consecutive term in office?

Arbuckle, who stepped down, effective today (Friday, March 16), attributed his decision, which he said has been a year in the making, to HEALTH PROBLEMS being encountered by one of his grandchildren.

But could there have other overriding factors that prompted his decision? Possibly. There are several prior and ongoing questions involving the DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office which, taken together or separately, could have nudged him out the door prematurely.

The first, going back about four years to an investigative audit REPORT by the Legislative Auditor’s Office in Baton Rouge revealed a major issue involving a former deputy sheriff whose private company ran half-a-million dollars’ worth of private background checks through Arbuckle’s office.

The company, Lagniappe and Castillo Research and Investigations, ran 41,574 background checks through the sheriff’s office during the 11-month period between April 1, 2012, and February 28, 2013, the audit report said. That’s 41,574 background checks in a parish that has a population of only 27,000.

Lagniappe and Castillo charged its customers $12 for each background report but paid the sheriff’s office only $3 per report. That represents a profit of more than $372,000 on income of more than $498,000—and sheriff’s office employees actually ran the checks. Robert Jackson Davidson, who retired as chief investigator for the sheriff’s office in May 2013, is listed as 50 percent owner of the company by the Louisiana Secretary of State’s corporate filings.

And then there is the more recent problem of LACE. That’s an anacronym for Local Agency Compensation Enforcement whereby the district attorney’s office pays the salaries of law enforcement officers to beef up traffic patrol for the parish. LACE has been hit with similar problems in State Police Troops B and D when it was learned that troopers were reporting hours worked on LACE detail that were not actually worked.

In the case for DeSoto Parish, it was sheriff’s deputies who fudged the numbers on their timesheets and three of Arbuckle’s deputies have already left under a cloud.

A new investigative audit by the Legislative Auditor’s Office has been ongoing for some time now and that report is also expected to be highly critical of the LACE program and possibly other areas of operation.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera told LouisianaVoice on Thursday that he did not know just when that report would be released. The auditor’s office traditionally sends the head of the agency being audited a management letter in advance of the public release of the report in order to give management a chance to respond in writing. That response is usually included in the release of the audit report. There was no word from Purpera’s office as to whether or not that management letter had been sent to Arbuckle.

A check by LouisianaVoice of about 600 LACE tickets handed out by sheriff’s deputies revealed that not a single LACE ticket was issued to a resident of DeSoto Parish. Every single recipient checked was from other parishes or even from out of state.

Of course, I-49 cuts through DeSoto Parish which would explain at least a high number of out-of-parish motorists’ receiving tickets—but 100 percent would seem somewhat improbable.

Reports by local critics of Arbuckle cite him for purchasing vehicles for the sheriff’s office without going through the public bid process. But sheriffs offices are on a state vendor list that exempts many such purchases from public bid. But on those not exempt, critics claim there is mischief afoot in the way Arbuckle goes about his purchases.

Then there is Arbuckle’s annual budget which reflects revenues of $12.3 million, which is nearly double the $4.9 million of next-door neighbor Sabine Parish, which has a population of 24,200—only a little fewer than DeSoto.

But it’s the office expenditures that are the real eye-openers. Arbuckle’s office had expenditures of nearly $14.1 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017. That is $3.3 million more than the $10.8 million spent by the sheriff’s office in Natchitoches Parish, which has a population of 40,000—and a university. It also is more near three times the $5 million spent by the Sabine Parish Sheriff for the same year.

So, just what did Arbuckle spend all that money on? For starters, the bulk of that $15.2 million, $11.2 million to be exact, went for salaries. It would appear that Arbuckle hired deputies almost indiscriminately. Arbuckle himself was the second-highest-paid sheriff in the state (only the Beauregard Parish sheriff made more).

His department’s salary figures compare with salary expenditures of $3.7 million for Sabine and $7.9 million for Natchitoches.

Even more telling is a comparison of the year-end fund balances for the three sheriffs’ offices. Sabine Parish ended the fiscal year with a fund balance of $7.5 million and Natchitoches Parish had a fund balance of $8.2 million. Arbuckle’s DeSoto Parish Sheriff’s Office, however, finished the fiscal year with a whopping fund balance of $52.2 million.

Arbuckle apparently need not concern himself with the state law that a sheriff is responsible for any operating deficit at the end of his term of office.

DeSoto’s embarrassment of riches was due in large part to the Haynesville Shale and a couple of major facilities—eight energy companies, International Paper, and SWEPCO—in the parish which accounted for $256.5 in assessments and $3.5 million in property taxes (4.73 percent of total assessed valuation). Both figures would appear to be extremely low.

Arbuckle also is a principal in no fewer than six corporate entities, three of which are for-profit companies. One is a fence construction company and a second is a real estate development firm. The third, and possibly the most significant, is an outfit called Dirt Road Rentals, which rents or leases equipment to oil and gas field companies.

The company was chartered in July 2013, just about the time the Haynesville Shale boom kicked off. With so much activity taking place with the Haynesville Shale, it would seem to be a golden opportunity for a sheriff who, if he chose to do so, could lean on the oil and gas field companies to lease equipment from him lest their trucks get pulled over for traffic offenses.

Which could explain the need for all those extra deputies.

But a sheriff would never stoop to such tactics.

Would he?

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The late comedian Andy Griffith began his classic bit entitled What it was, was Football with this line:

“It was back last October, I believe it was…”

Well, it was back last December—Dec. 5, 2017, to be precise—that I speculated in my LouisianaVoice POST about the “premature” release of that Louisiana State Police (LSP) audit so critical of former LSP Superintendent Mike Edmonson that ol’ Mike most probably leaked that “premature” audit copy himself in order to set up a claim that his defense, in case of ensuring criminal charges, had been tainted.

Back on Dec. 5, I wrote: “A premature release of the audit before Edmonson had a chance to respond could conceivably prejudice the case against Edmonson. Accordingly, Edmonson (or more likely someone acting anonymously on his behalf) slipped a copy of the audit to The Advocate/WWL.”

The ploy may have worked had it not been for WWL-TV posting the auditor’s cover letter to Edmonson. That pretty much put the ball in Edmonson’s court in terms of identifying the leaker. That’s because there were only two copies of the audit draft. One went to LSP and one to Edmonson. Only the one that went to Edmonson contained the auditor’s cover letter. And when WWL abruptly removed the video from its web page when I called attention to it, that pretty much confirmed my theory.

Well, wouldn’t you know Mikey done went and done zackly I said he’d do.

Thanks in no small part to the resourcefulness of Baton Rouge Advocate reporter Jim Mustian, we now know that Mike won’t be submitting his response to the audit. That response, was initially due back on Jan. 15 and I did a post about his missing the deadline. Even then, it was pretty much a certainty there would be no response from Edmonson. It’s difficult, after all, to defend the indefensible.

But now he’s made it official through his legal counsel, Harry Rosenberg. Mustian had a STORY today that quoted Rosenberg as telling state auditors that his client was finding it impossible to “engage in a meaningful preliminary conference” with the auditor’s office “due to the premature release of the ‘draft’ audit.” SEE ROSENBERG LETTER AT END OF AUDIT

Now, folks, I’m not blessed with the ability to see into the future but this wasn’t a hard call to make. WWL’s posting of that cover letter—and its sudden disappearance from the station’s online story—along with Mike’s early protestations made his strategy oh, so very easy to decipher.

And, oh yes, that FBI INVESTIGATION also announced by Mustian on Tuesday is the latest wrinkle in the ongoing probe of his role as Louisiana’s top cop. The feds are interviewing LSP helicopter pilots and looking at flight logs. They’re making a list and checking it twice and Mike has to be feeling the heat.

So, with the news of the FBI investigation and Mike’s declining to provide his response to the audit can mean only one thing: Rosenberg, no stranger to criminal matters given his experience as a former U.S. attorney for Louisiana’s Eastern District from 1990-1993, has undoubtedly admonished his client to sit down and shut up.

That’s what lawyers do. They tell clients to zip it because they’re the smartest people in the room and they think everyone should listen to them. Except in this case, he’s probably right—if you believe the hokum that Rosenberg dropped into his letter to Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera. Edmonson, according to Rosenberg, was nothing less than a saint who was a “consistent calming presence” during hurricanes, shootings, and floods” and that San Diego motor trip by four troopers was all their fault and none of Edmonson’s. In short, we should probably lay rose petals in his path.

There is one unanswered question about Rosenberg’s letter to the auditor, however.

He copied one other person with the letter: State Sen. Mike WALSWORTH of West Monroe.

Walsworth is a member of the Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee, but he’s not chairman or vice-chair and he’s not from Edmonson’s senatorial district, so why would he do that?

It’s enough to make one wonder if Walsworth’s name might be on those LSP flight logs and copying him with the letter was a way of giving him a heads-up. Just sayin’.

State Sen. NEIL RISER must be fuming that he didn’t get a copy of the Rosenberg letter.

In retrospect, maybe it’s unfortunate that Riser’s attempt to bump Edmonson’s retirement up by about $100,000 per year was unsuccessful. He may need the money to pay his attorney.

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Mike Edmonson has missed his self-imposed deadline.

First, Edmonson, former Superintendent of Louisiana State Police (LSP) screamed foul when a state AUDIT of LSP was leaked prematurely, ostensibly before he’d had the opportunity to review it and to respond.

Then, when WWL-TV ran a screen shot of the auditor’s LETTER to Edmonson, we learned that the alleged “leak” in all likelihood came from Edmonson himself because only two copies of the audit were printed.

One copy went to LSP and the other to Edmonson for his review and comments before publication. But only one of those two copies contained the letter to the former state top cop.

That would seem to eliminate all potential sources of the leak but one: Edmonson himself.

But Edmonson, apparently unaware of the significance of that screen shot, went on the offensive, claiming that he had been grievously wronged by the premature “leaking” of the audit before he had his chance to respond.

“For inexplicable reasons, the confidential draft report regarding me and the Louisiana State Police was leaked to the media and the contents of the draft then was (sic) disseminated to media outlets throughout the State—all before I could respond to the various contentions (sic),” he said in a written statement to Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera. “Realizing the inherent unfairness to me, the residents of our State, as well as respect for the normal procedures, I trust your office has begun an investigation into this improper conduct and will soon report your findings.

“…Given the publication of large segments of a preliminary commentary, and the apparent breach of normal practices that seems to have disclosed the entirety of the confidential draft report, I am now constrained (sic) to notify you that you can release the report and provide your report to the Louisiana State Senate this week. I, in turn, will promptly deliver my response feeling confident the residents of this State will not prematurely reach conclusions until all of the facts are presented. That is the way the process works, that is the only impartial and objective approach, and I strongly believe that is what our fellow citizens expect.”

On Dec. 14, he said he would submit his official response to the audit’s “various contentions” by Jan. 15, 2018. That gave him a full month to compose his rebuttal.

https://louisianavoice.com/2017/12/14/edmonson-predictably-tries-to-spin-lsp-audit-release-as-gov-edwards-like-lady-macbeth-tries-in-vain-to-remove-the-spot/

January 15, 2018, came and went yesterday (Monday) and a text message to Purpera’s office revealed Edmonson has yet to submit his response.

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One of the most frustrating jobs in state government has to be that of the Legislative Auditor.

The office is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that audits and sworn financial statements of all public entities are carried out in a timely—and legally-prescribed—manner and that the books of those entities are in order.

Yet, whenever discrepancies are found and reported, little comes of the auditors’ reports. Oh, in cases where the findings are significant, such as the recent audit of the management of former Louisiana State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson, a report will make a big splash in the media.

But then, it quickly becomes old news and is forgotten. All too often, in the end, nothing is done to actually rein in those who might be guilty of lax fiscal responsibility over their organization or worse—possible malfeasance.

Seldom is there any follow-up on the part of those who have the authority to make changes. An office or agency head continues to lead the organization with little or no disciplinary action handed down from above, be it from a department head, cabinet member, or, in some cases, the governor himself.

In short, there is little real accountability in state government. A critical audit, conducted at no small expense, points out shortcomings, a management letter is generated promising reforms, and life—and abuses of the public trust—go on unabated.

As Exhibit A, we have the Auditor’s NON-COMPLIANCE LIST, a dishonor roll that dates back as far as 2004 and which contains well over 100 agencies, offices, organizations and individuals who have failed to comply with state statutes.

The list is liberally peppered with justices of the peace, community development districts, constables, social organizations, and even municipalities, sheriffs’ offices, and clerks of court—all reflecting the widespread disregard for fiscal responsibility or, to be charitable, just plain ignorance of the law.

Any organization that has any financial relationship with the state or a parish must, depending on the size of the organization’s budget, provide a review/attestation of its financial condition, a sworn financial statement, or a full-blown audit on a yearly basis.

From Acadia to Winn, virtually every parish has at least one organization on the non-compliance list. Here are a few examples:

  • The Beauregard Parish Hospital Service District No. 1, Merryville—five times between the years 2004 and 2009: failure to produce an audit;
  • The Ward 7 Caddo Parish Constable—seven years between 2009 and 2016: no sworn financial statements;
  • The Resource Center in Caddo—10 straight years, from 2008 to 2017: no financial statements;
  • Louisiana Auto Insurance Plan, East Baton Rouge Parish—10 straight years, from 2007 to 2016: no audit;
  • Ville Platte City Marshal, Evangeline Parish—six consecutive years, from 2012 to 2017: no sworn financial statement;
  • St. Landry Parish Constable, District 8—nine years between 2005 and 2016: no sworn financial statement.

State Auditor Daryl Purpera, contacted by LouisianaVoice, acknowledged the frustration of constantly having to chase down the various offices. “It keeps us pretty busy and it costs the state money to track this in terms of both money and man-hours.”

He said state law says when any organization found to be in non-compliance for three consecutive years, that is considered malfeasance. “That law is on the books,” he said.

STATE REP. NEIL ABRAMSON

A few years back, State Rep. Neil Abramson (D-New Orleans) attempted to push through a bill in the legislature which would required any non-governmental organization (NGO) or public body to be on the Legislative Auditor’s approved list (not on the non-compliance list) in order to be eligible to receive any state funding or to conduct business with the state.

Abramson’s bill failed.

Now, who would have ever thought that?

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